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Rock Climbing Ropes – Distinguishing the Types

By on Jan 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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Rope Management on Flying Buttress
Rope Management on Flying Buttress
There are lots of discussions and debates climbing on forums and blogs about the different types of dynamic climbing ropes and best practise. The main types of dynamic rope used in rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering are broadly divided into single, double and twin climbing ropes, with hillwalking safety ropes as a smaller by product of the industry. These days it is a simple article of good practise to check that the rock climbing rope you are buying carries the appropriate UIAA rope marking label, heat shrunk onto the end of the rope. It really couldn’t be easier to make sure you get the right rope for the job.

rope end indicator
Rope End Indicator Labels Explained
Most frequently seen of modern rock climbing ropes, is a single rope of between 8.9 mm up to 11 mm in diameter, designed to be used on its own as protection in a fall. Heavy weight singles and their more modern skinnier variations have found a resurgence in popularity in modern sport climbing;on climbs where the line doesn’t wander much and at crags where descent is an easy walk off. The thinner single ropes have an advantage in weight saving, but are not as durable as the thicker models. Abrasion or catches in the sheath, have a much bigger effect on the total strength and shock absorbing characteristics of these thinner rock climbing ropes. The more substantial single ropes up to 11 mm are on the other hand easier to grasp, can withstand more falls and wear and tear. A cut in the sheath is much less likely to lead to rope failure as there is substantially more material in reserve, to absorb the shock of a fall..

Double ropes were a British to the much smaller surface area of rock on our British crags which characteristically have intricate wandering lines. Double ropes were used to reduce the rope drag on zigzagging routes when a single rope was clipped into the protection either side of the climber as they picked their way up indistinct wandering lines. The use of two ropes brought about a need to reduce weight, leading to the development of half ropes around the 9 mm mark. Each half rope in the double rope system is rated to take a significant fall by itself, with recent products reduced . Another advantage, particularly useful on Scottish winter climbs and other large mountaineering undertakings is that, if a retreat is necessary, climbers can abseil the full-length of the rope, rather than half a rope length at a time. This is quicker and reduces the number of potentially dubious anchors that the climbers have to rely on.

This short video clip from UKClimbing gives some very useful tips about managing double rope technique.

Double Rope Technique

As climbers and the gear firms have striven for lighter gear, for ever more extreme routes, twin ropes appeared on the scene for long ice routes and big mountaineering projects. The reduced weight and diameter of these skinny climbing ropes meant that they had to be clipped as a pair at all times. Each piece of pro had to be clipped with both ropes, because these ropes had much lower strength than a half or single rope. The elasticity and low “peak impact forces” of these thinner ropes also meant that a climber fell quite a bit further before the fall being arrested. .Even though climbers suffered much lower impact forces in a fall, the extra distance travelled, significantly increased the risk of injury through hitting obstacles such as ledges and flakes mid flight. Used as a pair, the ropes offered as much protection as a single thicker rope would in a fall situation and gave the advantage of being able to abseil full rope lengths as with using a pair of half ropes. They did however have the same disadvantage of rope drag when the line wandered from side to side as well as the added fumble factor of having to clip two ropes into protection.

There are some really critical safety points here. Twins really aren’t suitable as half or single ropes, partly because of the extra extension when shock loaded in a fall and also, none of the ropes are rated to withstand significant falls as single strands. In the case of half ropes; although each strand is rated to take a big fall on its own, it is poor practise to use them as a single climbing rope, because they are much less resilient than a fully rated single rope. To illustrate this last point, I recalled an incident from one of our evening cragging trips in the Lakes.

At the top of Castle rock of Triermain, in the Lake District many years ago, I was bringing up my friend at the top of Angels Highway, watching a young lad from Kendal as he topped put on a neighbouring route. Scrambling up the easy final 20 m or so above the belay of the big pitch, he hadn’t bothered to put any gear in and I noticed he only seemed to have a single 9mm (half rope) that he was tied into. I commented as he approached and he mentioned that they had forgotten one of their ropes. As he drew up level with me, he grabbed a loose branch without testing it. I didn’t even have time to vocalise a grunt before he was airborne and bouncing off slabs 10 metres or so below, disappearing into the trees below the crag followed by a tangle of un-runnered rope. There was no sound. He had fallen straight past my partner, who backed down to a vantage point to see what the damage was going to be. Fully a minute must have passed before he called up to say the falling guy had survived. He had taken a factor 2 fall onto the belay and had fallen the full length of the his pitch and the previous one on the stretch of the half rope: hitting the start ledge, before elasticing back up into the air. The rope had done its job … just! When both guys were back at the bottom they showed us the rope – it had been cut fully half way through on an edge at some point in the fall. That fall would have been much less serious if the lads had had a pair of ropes and or, put in at least a couple of pieces of gear on the way up the easy pitch. It’s so often the unexpected silly thing that catches us when there’s already something wrong with the system.

The final category of climbing rope is the simple hillwalking safety rope which is intended as a reassurance for members of walking party or scrambling group but not as a leading rope. These are typically around 8mm diameter and are the type of rope that walking leader could use to secure members of his group as they tackle steep drops and even when descending simple but steep grassy slopes. These types are clearly marked as being unsuitable for out and out climbing use.

Additionally, despite the huge strides in rope technology of recent years, it is absolutely imperative that you check visually and by touch the whole length of your rope every time you uncoil it or take it out of your rope bag. Any cuts or tears in the sheath are causes for concern and need closer checking. If the sheath is torn to such an extent that the core of the kernmantle construction can be seen, then at the very least, that section of rope needs to be cut away. Inspection by touch involves running the rope through your hands and feeling for any lumps or bumps in the core that could indicate damage or degradation of your rope. If you have any doubt about the safety or integrity of your rope, then maybe that’s the day put off the project and go shopping for a new rope instead.

There are lots of discussions and debates on forums and blogs about the different types of dynamic climbing ropes and best practise. The main types of dynamic rope used in rock

climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering are broadly divided into single, double and twin climbing ropes, with hillwalking safety ropes as a smaller by product of the industry. These

days it is a simple article of good practise to check that the rock climbing rope you are buying carries the appropriate UIAA rope marking label, heat shrunk onto the end of the rope. It

really couldn’t be easier to make sure you get the right rope for the job.

Most frequently seen of modern rock climbing ropes, is a single rope of between 8.9 mm up to 11 mm in diameter, designed to be used on its own as protection in a fall. Heavy weight

singles and their more modern skinnier variations have found a resurgence in popularity in modern sport climbing;on climbs where the line doesn’t wandermuch and at crags where

descent is an easy walk off. The thinner single ropes have anadvantage in weight saving, but are not as durable as the thicker models. Abrasion or catches in the sheath, have a much

bigger effect on the total strength and shock absorbing characteristics of these thinner rock climbing ropes. The more substantial single ropes up to 11 mm are on the other hand

easier to grasp, can withstand more falls and wear and tear. A cut in the sheath is much less likely to lead to rope failure as there is substantially more material in reserve, to absorb

the shock of a fall..

http://i.ukc2.com/i/143548.jpg Double ropes were a British to the much smaller surface area of rock on our British crags which characteristically have intricate wandering lines. Double

ropes were used to reduce the rope drag on zigzagging routes when a single rope was clipped into the protection either side of the climber as they picked their way up indistinct

wandering lines. The use of two ropes brought about a need to reduce weight, leading to the development of half ropes around the 9 mm mark. Each half rope in the double rope

system is rated to take a significant fall by itself, with recent products reduced . Another advantage, particularly useful on Scottish winter climbs and other large mountaineering

undertakings is that, if a retreat is necessary, climbers can abseil the full-length of the rope, rather than half a rope length at a time. This is quicker and reduces the number of

potentially dubious anchors that the climbers have to rely on.

This short video clip from UKClimbing gives some very useful tips about managing double rope technique.http://www.ukclimbing.com/videos/play.php?i=48

As climbers and the gear firms have striven for lighter gear, for ever more extreme routes, twin ropes appeared on the scene for long ice routes and big mountaineering projects. The

reduced weight and diameter of these skinny climbing ropes meant that they had to be clipped as a pair at all times. Each piece of pro had to be clipped with both ropes, because

these ropes had much lower strength than a half or single rope. The elasticity and low “peak impact forces” of these thinner ropes also meant that a climber fell quite a bit further

before the fall being arrested. .Even though climbers suffered much lower impact forces in a fall, the extra distance travelled, significantly increased the risk of injury through hitting

obstacles such as ledges and flakes mid flight. Used as a pair, the ropes offered as much protection as a single thicker rope would in a fall situation and gave the advantage of being

able to abseil full rope lengths as with using a pair of half ropes. They did however have the same disadvantage of rope drag when the line wandered from side to side as well as the

added fumble factor of having to clip two ropes into protection.

There are some really critical safety points here. Twins really aren’t suitable as half or single ropes, partly because of the extra extension when shock loaded in a fall and also, none of

the ropes are rated to withstand significant falls as single strands. In the case of half ropes; although each strand is rated to take a big fall on its own, it is poor practise to use them as

a single climbing rope, because they are much less resilient than a fully rated single rope. To illustrate this last point, I recalled an incident from one of our evening cragging trips in the

Lakes.

At the top of Castle rock of Triermain, in the Lake District many years ago, I was bringing up my friend at the top of Angels Highway, watching a young lad from Kendal as he topped

put on a neighbouring route. Scrambling up the easy final 20 m or so above the belay of the big pitch, he hadn’t bothered to put any gear in and I noticed he only seemed to have a

single 9mm (half rope) that he was tied into. I commented as he approached and he mentioned that they had forgotten one of their ropes. As he drew up level with me, he grabbed a

loose branch without testing it. I didn’t even have time to vocalise a grunt before he was airborne and bouncing off slabs 10 metres or so below, disappearing into the trees below the

crag followed by a tangle of un-runnered rope. There was no sound. He had fallen straight past my partner, who backed down to a vantage point to see what the damage was going to

be. Fully a minute must have passed before he called up to say the falling guy had survived. He had taken a factor 2 fall onto the belay and had fallen the full length of the his pitch and

the previous one on the stretch of the half rope: hitting the start ledge, before elasticing back up into the air. The rope had done its job … just! When both guys were back at the bottom

they showed us the rope – it had been cut fully half way through on an edge at some point in the fall. That fall would have been much less serious if the lads had had a pair of ropes and

or, put in at least a couple of pieces of gear on the way up the easy pitch. It’s so often the unexpected silly thing that catches us when there’s already something wrong with the system.

The final category of climbing rope is the simple hillwalking safety rope which is intended as a reassurance for members of walking party or scrambling group but not as a leading

rope. These are typically around 8mm diameter and are the type of rope that walking leader could use to secure members of his group as they tackle steep drops and even when

descending simple but steep grassy slopes. These types are clearly marked as being unsuitable for out and out climbing use.

Additionally, despite the huge strides in rope technology of recent years, it is absolutely imperative that you check visually and by touch the whole length of your rope every time you

uncoil it or take it out of your rope bag. Any cuts or tears in the sheath are causes for concern and need closer checking. If the sheath is torn to such an extent that the core of the

kernmantle construction can be seen, then at the very least, that section of rope needs to be cut away. Inspection by touch involves running the rope through your hands and feeling for

any lumps or bumps in the core that could indicate damage or degradation of your rope. If you have any doubt about the safety or integrity of your rope, then maybe that’s the day put

off the project and go shopping for a new rope instead.

29/01/2011

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